Prompted by Christopher Hitchens piece on Slate…………….

Perhaps its time to revisit Vacel Havel’s piece on tea making as ritual, taken from his Letters to Olga, letters written whilst in prison:

“In my last letter, I wrote you a little about how I am trying to bring a certain order into my outer life in the form of a deliberate program of “self-care,” aimed at promoting physical health and steadiness of nerve. Today, I’m going to continue that theme with a short essay on tea.  When I was outside, I didn’t understand the cult of tea that exists in prison, but I wasn’t here long before grasping its significance and succumbing to it myself (I, who used to drink tea, if at all, only once a year, when I had the flu) or more precisely, including it as an inseparable aspect of my “self-care” program.  I’ll try to indicate briefly some functions tea assumes in these circumstances. (1) First of all, it cures: one always tries tea first to head off a whole range of minor indispositions such as headaches, sluggishness, chills, the inability to concentrate, sore throat, incipient colds etc. etc.- and it often works.  (2) It warms: ten fur coats will not get rid of occasional numbness better than a glass of hot tea.  (3) Stimulation: it is only here, where one has no alcohol, coffee and all other means of excitation common on the outside, that one appreciates how powerful a stimulant tea, or rather, the caffeine it contains, is.  It is a real pick-me-up; it reduces weariness, nervousness, bad moods, apathy, sleepiness, etc., and restores one’s freshness, alertness, ability to concentrate, energy, strength and appetite for life. (I know precisely how much tea I can drink during the day and when I should take my last drink if I want to fall sleep at a certain hour.)  (4) Last but not least-in fact most important of all, perhaps- is tea’s peculiar uplifting function.  Tea, it seems to me, becomes a kind of material symbol of freedom here: (a) it is in effect the only fare that one can prepare oneself, and thus freely: when and how I make it is entirely up to me.  In the preparation of it, I realize myself as a free being, as it were, capable of looking after myself.  (b) Tea-as sign of private relaxation, of a brief pause in the midst of the hubbub, of rumination and private contemplation-functions as the external, material attribute of a certain unbridling of the spirit and thus as a companion in moments of focused inner freedom.  (c) The world of freedom considered as leisure time is represented by tea in the opposite-in the extroverted and therefore the social-sense: sitting down to a cup of tea here is a substitute for the world of bars, wine rooms, parties, binges, social life, in other words again, something you choose yourself and in which you realize your freedom in social terms.  In short: tea here has a rich panoply of functions, it’s become a habit, I drink tea everyday, preparing it is one of my small daily ceremonies (and even such small ceremonies help to hold one together-it is something like a salutary straitjacket), I look forward to it, and consuming it (which I schedule carefully, so it does not become formless and random activity) is an extremely important component in my daily “self-care” program.”